Archive for December, 2012

The Exegesis of God

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

300px-Nativity_tree2011Today’s Gospel, which is something of a Christmas repeat from the Christmas Mass During the Day (that’s right, in case you didn’t realize this, there are in fact four different sets of reading for Christmas… it’s kind of a big deal!). It is the famous “prologue” of the Gospel according to John. It’s opening lines are some of the most famous lines in all of history: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And while this is followed most closely by what is likely the second most famous line from the Gospel of John “And the Word became flesh,” I’m not convinced that this is the most important part of this Gospel passage.

Not that every part of the prologue isn’t important, quite the opposite, but the ending of this prologue, that which bridges this opening of the Gospel with the body of the text, is way too often overlooked. I’m talking about the very end, these lines:

No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

If you’re not paying attention, you can miss it. And most of us, I would bet (myself included), don’t pay nearly enough attention to what is actually proclaimed in the Gospel. We usually hear something we recognize, if only vaguely, and then our eyes glaze over and we zone out. Right? It’s too difficult to stand in one place, listen, and concentrate for five whole minutes. We’ve all been there before!

But what is overlooked here is one of the most beautiful things in the Gospel, and it’s central to our faith as Christians and why we get this repeated (in case you missed it on Christmas day proper) during the Christmas octave in which we still find ourselves.

The author of the Gospel of John is saying here that prior to the Incarnation, prior to Christmas morning when God became one like us, born in the flesh as a human being like you and me, no one, no one had ever seen God. Humanity had known God, had — by virtue of our existence, through nature, in prayer, in divine revelation and scripture — been in relationship with God; but no one had ever seen God. That changes with the Incarnation.

The word “revealed,” as in “Jesus Christ has revealed God,” is from the Greek word that gives us exegesis (ἐξήγησις). This is more than an image or a sign of God, but is the very expression (pressing-out), the very “making real,” the very unfolding, explaining, understanding, presentation, true presence, concretization, self-disclosure, and so on, of God.

I once had a christology professor who is probably the only person I know who possibly loves John 1:18 more than I do, who liked to say that a paraphrase for this final line of the prologue is to ask and respond:

Want to know what God is like? 
Look at the son! Look at Jesus Christ — what he does, what he says, how he lives — and you will know how God acts, thinks, and desires!

We believe that God has indeed entered the world as one like us but, even more, as the end of John’s prologue affirms, we believe that God has fully revealed (auto-exegesis) God’s self in the historical person Jesus of Nazareth, whom we call The Christ.

Christmas is more than a celebration of a newborn, it is the celebration of the very exegesis of God.

Photo: Stock

Misunderstanding and the (Ordinary) Holy Family of Jesus

Posted in Scripture with tags , , , on December 30, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

family-of-threeToday is the Feast of the Holy Family, the first Sunday after Christmas that marks the celebration of Jesus’s nuclear family — Mary, Joseph, and the child Jesus. The Gospel for today is the famous passage from Luke that features the pre-teen Jesus getting away from his parents in order to talk with and, subsequently, shock the teachers in the Temple. One of the things that struck me in hearing the Gospel this year was the brief line toward the end that describes the miscommunication and misunderstanding between the twelve-year-old Jesus and his worried parents: “But they did not understand what he said to them” (Luke 2:51).

I think it can be easy at times to, given that we “know the story” of the Gospel, take the side of Jesus in this pericope. We can look at the young Jesus as Emmanuel and think, “geez, what’s up with Mary and Joseph, don’t they get it?” But there is something else going on here. It is, I believe, a clear instance of the Gospel author reminding us of Jesus’s full humanity too! Not to mention the full humanity of his parents!

This is likely not the first time that Jesus was misunderstood by his family and it will certainly not be the last time he is understood by those who care for him and are drawn to him. We know that Jesus is time and again mistaken for someone or something else, misunderstood even by his closest friends and followers, betrayed, denied, and abandoned.

The Feast of the Holy Family is often depicted in the popular Christian imagination as this ethereal and perfect nuclear family that is serene in disposition, calm in motion, and beautiful in appearance — not unlike the creche statuary we place in our homes and churches. But the truth behind this Gospel, that which comes to the surface in lines like Jesus’s parents not “getting” him, is that they were as ordinary and human as you and I. As evident just in this one Gospel passage alone, Mary and Joseph got impatient, worried, concerned and, perhaps, angry with their son. Jesus’s divinity does not erase the difficulties that all human persons experience as teenagers. God knows what that’s like — literally!

I think there are two particular insights that are worth considering on today’s feast.

The first is that God really does know what it is like to be different and misunderstood. So many young adults and teenagers feel misunderstood, experience confusion about their identities and goals, fear not fulfilling the expectations — reasonable or otherwise — from their parents and others. Although we don’t usually think of it, this is something that God knows first hand and something that should bring us a little solace. Our prayer, our communication with God, might take a different direction if, in those times of misunderstanding and loneliness, we come to recognize that we are understood and loved and appreciated for who we are and by the Creator that has likewise experienced what it means to be different and misunderstood.

The second is that what makes the Holy Family holy isn’t just that Jesus, true God and true human, was the son born to them. True, that is certainly an important factor, but the Holy Family was a human family and in the difficulties, trials, joys, and sorrows of ordinary human like, this family rose to the occasion of living in an authentically human way. Yes, parents get impatient and children cause trouble now and then, but the love, concern, and priority of the familial relationship raises the nuclear family here from a collection of three people brought together by life’s circumstances to a sanctity and holiness exhibited by being human in the most authentic way. Love, forgiveness, and trying to understand, even when we fail, is what makes a family holy.

Photo: Stock

Got Books? Some Shameless Advertising

Posted in Dating God Book, Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith with tags , , , , , , on December 29, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

December2012_WebAdIf you’re like me, you might find yourself with a gift card or two for bookstores like Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble after the Christmas and broader-holiday season. In the event that you’re looking for something to purchase with those acquired and restricted monies, let me shamelessly call your attention to some of my recent books that have been released during the past year, including the newest one, Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays (2013) — if you’re a fan of this blog, I can guarantee that you’ll be a fan of this book!

I readily admit to this plug as shameless for two reasons. The first is that, as any of you who have published a book or released some sort of media (musicians, visual artists, etc.) realize, the more embarrassing and challenging part of that work or ministry is to be a part-time spokesperson for the said product. It’s just the name of the game.  The second reason this is shameless advertising is that I don’t personally benefit from the sale of any of these books, rather all royalties and proceeds go directly to my province of the Franciscan Order, so you can rest assured that any gift cards or money spent on these books goes to a great cause.

Here are some links to the ways you can get ahold of these books. You can also order them from any local or independent bookstore if they don’t already have them in stock. Thanks again for checking them out and I hope you enjoy them and spread the word! Let me know what you think — I always appreciate the feedback!

Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis (2012)

From Amazon.com [PaperbackKindleAudio CD]

From Barnes & Noble [PaperbackNookAudio CD]

From Franciscan Media [PaperbackAudio CD]

From iTunes [Audio VersioneBook for iPad]

Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith: Exploring Franciscan Spirituality and Theology in the Modern World (2012)

From the Tau Publishing [Paperback]

From Amazon.com [Kindle] [Paperback]

From Barnes & Noble [Nook]

From iTunes [iPad Book]

Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays (2013)

From Amazon.com [PaperbackKindle]

From Barnes & Noble [Paperback]

The ‘Feast of Holy Innocents’ Two Weeks After the Newtown Massacre

Posted in Huffington Post with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

newtown25n-2-webThis reflection originally appeared on The Huffington Post religion page on 28 December 2012.

Exactly two weeks, to the day, after the tragic slaying of twenty schoolchildren and the six adults who sought to protect them, several Christian communities (Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans) celebrate the annual “Feast of the Holy Innocents,” a memorial which appears on the liturgical calendar each year on December 28. This feast is also celebrated by the Syrian Christian communities (Syriac Orthodox, Syro-Malankara Catholics, Maronites, and Syro-Malabar Catholics) on the December 27, while the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates this day on December 29.

The feast day is a solemn and challenging liturgical remembrance that calls to mind the command of King Herod of Judea who, as the tradition has it, was infuriated that the magi from the East did not return to him after visiting the infant Jesus to tell him the newborn’s location, and fearing his power was threatened by the birth of this child, “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Matt 2:16).

The day is celebrated as a remembrance of martyrs, and is sometimes viewed as the commemoration of the “first martyrs” for these little babies and toddlers lost their lives, some would say, “for Christ.” Yet, this is not at all a satisfactory explanation.

The senseless murder of children can never be justified, even in an attempt simply to make sense of such a tragedy. This is one of the reasons why this annual memorial is so difficult and challenging, made more incomprehensible in light of the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, CT two weeks earlier.

My own response to requests for understand and meaning of such tragedies is echoed succinctly in a quote by Rev. Kevin O’Neil, C.S.s.R., one of my former ethics professors, in a New York Times column earlier this week:

I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.

This notion of God as the answer to the suffering that is so tragic, so senseless, so unbearable might help us to appreciate better why the Feast of the Holy Innocents occurs three days after Christmas. As I wrote here in The Huffington Post earlier this week, Christmas is more than one day — it is an entire liturgical season that begins at Christmas Eve and continues through the Baptism of the Lord, weeks later.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents is a Christmas memorial, a moment to pause amid the ostensible joy and cheer of the season of the birth of the child who is Emmanuel to recall the death of children whose lives were senselessly taken away.

One way to look at this feast day is to consider how, by its placement on the calendar and its proximity to the celebration of the coming of Christ, it is as an opportunity to reflect on the way in which God is not absent from the tragedies of suffering and death in our world. As Christians, we believe that God became human like us and lived among us. Over the course of Jesus’s life, he laughed and cried, he celebrated and mourned, and he understood what it meant to suffer. Crying at the death of a friend and embracing the voiceless, the marginalized, and the poor throughout his earthly life, Jesus Christ knew as well as any of us what it means to suffer and to lose.

But Jesus Christ, the Emmanuel (God-with-us) is also the sign, not just of God’s empathetic experience of suffering and loss in our world, but of the answer and model for response. As Fr. O’Neil also said in that Times column: “One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence.”

Amid the suffering and loss in our world, it is you and I who, like Jesus Christ before us, offer both the empathetic tears of sincere compassion and the loving embrace and support for neighbor that God calls us to offer. As St. Teresa of Avila famously put it another way:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.

It falls to us to be “instruments of God’s peace,” as the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis’s memory reminds us. But being the hands and feet of Christ to those who suffer or are mourning cannot just be limited to our immediate communities.

What happened two weeks ago in Newtown, CT was particularly shocking to a world that considered such locations – an elementary school in an affluent Connecticut town (according to US Census data, the median income is over $100,000 and the poverty rate is under 3.0%) – to be safe and secure. However, the slaughtering of innocent children occurs everyday in neighborhoods and in cities all over the United States. I only have to think of a few of the cities in which I’ve lived in the last ten years (The Bronx, Wilmington, DE, Washington DC, for example) to recall how gun-related violence scars the lives of children and families on a daily basis.

The slaughtering of holy innocents occurs in so many other places throughout our world, every minute of every day: the children in Afghanistan and Iraq that have suffered the effects of war, oftentimes because of the United States’s interventions; the children of Pakistan, whose lives are shrouded by the fear of silent and lethal drones that fly overheard; the children of Syria, whose world is currently punctuated by a civil war; the children of Uganda, who were forced to be instruments of violence as child soldiers; and the hundreds of other places in our world where the Feast of Holy Innocents reflects the dark reality that so infrequently makes the headlines or the cable-news reports.

This is not to undermine or attempt to mitigate the true suffering and horror of the massacre in Newtown, but rather a call to get us to think about how the meaning of a Christian feast day, macabre though it may appear, might provide us with the opportunity to reevaluate our lives, our laws, and the way we strive to be Christ for others.

Our hearts continue to ache at the thought of young lives taken away, of futures extinguished. Yet, our hope rests in the truth that God is not absent or disinterested in our suffering, our loss, and our mourning. God looks to us to be the instruments of divine peace in this world, the hands and feet, the hearts and voices of the Prince of Peace who invites us to follow Him.

Christmas, the celebration of God-with-us, does indeed continue amid the tragedies of our world, but only insofar as we are able to open our eyes to see the suffering and murder of the holy innocents all over our world, and do something about it.

To view more of Daniel P. Horan, OFM’s Huffington Post articles, visit his author page here.

Photo: Rueters

Christmas Has Only Just Begun!

Posted in Huffington Post, Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 25, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

christmas-nativityThis reflection originally appeared in The Huffington Post on Christmas Eve 2012.

Christmas is much more than a one-day event.

While many people are familiar with the multi-week length of liturgical seasons throughout the Christian calendar — Ordinary Time, Advent and Lent, for example — few realize that Christmas is not just the celebration of the Nativity on Dec. 25 each year. Christmas is a full liturgical season that spans from Christmas Eve through Epiphany and ends, at least in the Roman Catholic Church, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Jan. 13 this year).

During the Christmas Season (sometimes called “Christmastide”) several other important feast days are celebrated, including the Feast of the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28), the Feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 30 this year), the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 6 this year), and the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. In some churches, the celebration of the Christmas season can extend to as late as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2, which brings the season to a full 40 days! Each of these moments marks an important event in the Christian narrative and in the life of the church.

It is interesting that our consumer culture has seen an opportunity to extend Christmas with an exceptionally early start to the marketing of Christmas-related products, decorations, candy and music. However, this move — “beginning Christmas” as early as October — is both redundant and a reversal of the proper season. Christmas is already long enough, but it requires that we celebrate the patient yet attentive waiting of the Advent Season first.

For those who think Christmas is anticlimactic after the months of shopping, prepping and holiday anxiety, the real good news of Christmas extends beyond the birth of the Savior to include an appropriately joyful and reflective season dedicated to pondering these mysteries.

On Dec. 21, 1962 the renowned German theologian Karl Rahner wrote a guest editorial in the weekly paper, Die Zeit, in which he offered some reflections on the celebration of Christmas and the season that bears its name. After observing that Christmas can oftentimes feel like a disappointment after such cultural buildup, Rahner wrote:

Yet the mystery still permeates our existence and repeatedly forces us to look at it: in the joy that is no longer aware of its cause; in fear, which dissolves our ability to comprehend our existence; in the love that knows itself as unconditional and everlasting; in the question that frightens us with its unconditional nature and boundless vastness.

He continued:

The seemingly superficial and conventional Christmas hoopla is blessed in the end with truth and depth. What looks like a sham in light of all the holiday activity, then, is not the complete truth, for in the background stands the holy and silent truth that God has arrived after all and is celebrating Christmas with us.

As Dec. 25 comes and goes, and the temptation to begin taking down the Christmas decorations quickly arises, consider the possibility of taking this year’s celebration of Christmas as an opportunity for something different.

Whereas in Christmases of the past, the day came and went amid gift giving, caroling and holiday parties, each rushed to be included before December’s end, perhaps this year might be the occasion to slow down and ponder more quietly that which stands in the background of this otherwise hectic time of year; what Rahner calls “the holy and silent truth that God has arrived after all and is celebrating Christmas with us.”

This year, especially in light of our all-too-painful awareness of violence and suffering in our world, time set aside to welcome the Prince of Peace is greatly needed.

May the remaining days of Christmas be a time of peace, prayer and joy, that what began on Christmas Eve may carry you through into a new calendar year more aware of the continued presence of the one who is Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Merry Christmas … still!

Photo: Stock

O Come Emmanuel: Savior of All People?

Posted in Advent, O Antiphons with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

christmas-mass-timesO Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

In recent years there has been a hot theological topic, made public and popular by discussions surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, that centers on what the meaning of salvation is and for whom it applies. Today’s O Antiphon, the last of the seven, directs our attention to the coming of Christ as God-with-us, Emmanuel. It is no surprise, perhaps, that the last of the antiphons focuses on the uniqueness and significance of the Incarnation and ties that reality — the truth of God-with-us — to Christ’s role as “savior of all people.” The technical term for what it means to talk about salvation for all is Apokatastasis, which is a fancy word for the belief that God desires and is capable of universal salvation. As one might imagine, as many saw with the melee that broke out around Bell’s reflection on this question, there is a natural tension present in such a claim. What about sin? What if I don’t want to be “saved?” What, then, is salvation all about?

Without getting into the complications of these questions, which have been the source of reflection dating back to St. Paul’s time (read his letters to the Thessalonians, for example, this is a persistent concern throughout) and seen considered from the Patristic area onward, I want to offer this consideration for us to ponder as the celebration of Christmas draws near: What does it mean to profess that Christ, emmanuel, is the “savior of all people?”

Take, for example, this passage from Gaudium et Spes, which seems to help us to understand better what this antiphon might mean in affirming that Christ is “savior of all people.”

While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention: that God’s kingdom may come, and that the salvation of the whole human race may come to pass. For every benefit which the People of God during its earthly pilgrimage can offer to the human family stems from the fact that the Church is ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’ simultaneously manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love. For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as perfect man He might save all men and sum up all things in Himself. The Lord is the goal of human history, the focal point of the longings of history and of civilization, the center of the human race, the joy of every heart and the answer to all its yearnings. He it is Whom the Father raised from the dead, lifted on high and stationed at His right hand, making Him judge of the living and the dead. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God’s love: ‘To reestablish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth’ (Eph. 1:10). [no. 45]

Do we celebrate this sense of what God has done for us by entering our world as one like us? Or are we more prone to treat salvation as the reward for lifelong membership in an organization? Do we see the working of God’s Spirit in the world, bringing all people and all of creation (see Romans 8) back to God’s self in Christ? Or is Christ only the savior of those for whom it is easy, palatable, and comfortable for me to imagine or for whom I desire this telos?

This Christmas, may we come to see the world and the human family the way that God does: without borders, without discrimination, and with the hope of peace shared among all people, a peace that the world cannot give, but a peace that has been given to us by the coming of Christ, by Emmanuel.

Photo: Stock

Dating God Podcast #21 — Fran Rossi Szpylczyn Returns to Podcast!

Posted in Advent, Dating God Podcast with tags , , , , on December 22, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

337459_378656508873622_76686740_oThis episode of the Dating God Podcast is the last of the Calendar Year 2012. Just a few days before Christmas, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, who had previously been a guest on the podcast back in 2011, returns to talk about her social media ministry and her contributions to a new book titled, Hungry, And You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C. You can find more information about the book and how to order it by visiting:Facebook.com/Homilists. Be sure to visit Fran’s Albany Times-Union blog: http://blog.timesunion.com/bread as well as her parish ministries at http://stedwardsblog.wordpress.com and http://pastoralpostings.wordpress.com.

Listen to the podcast online (streaming)

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (iTunes website)

Photo: Mickey McGrath, OSFS
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